Ethiopia’s Likina Amebaw and Burundi’s Celestin Ndikumana ascended as the champions of the latest season’s World Athletics Cross Country Tour at the Cross Internacional Zornotza. On a radiant Sunday in Amorebieta, Spain, these two athletes delivered remarkable performances and etched their names as the inaugural gold event victors of the season.
Amebaw’s Remarkable Win
The women’s 8700-meter race commenced with Mawia, the reigning 2022/2023 Cross Country Tour title-holder, seizing an early advantage. In close pursuit were the Ethiopian pair of Lemlem Nibret and Likina Amebaw. France’s Alessia Zarbo maintained a solitary fourth position, with a substantial gap separating her from the chasing pack.
The leading trio navigated the initial 2000 meters efficiently, clocking in at 6:49. The second lap was completed in 6:55. By the third kilometer, Nibret briefly moved ahead. At the halfway point, the leading trio had established a commanding 21-second lead over Zarbo, who, in turn, had distanced herself from the leading Spanish contenders.
As the race progressed, Mawia and Nibret took turns leading the pack, with Amebaw staying poised behind them. Nibret delivered an exceptional 3:19 split during the sixth kilometer, and shortly thereafter, she elevated the pace significantly, leaving Mawia behind. Amebaw bridged the gap with apparent ease.
In a heart-pounding final stretch, Nibret pushed vigorously, but Amebaw refused to concede. The two Ethiopian athletes engaged in an intense sprint finish, much to the delight of the spectators. Amebaw seized the opportunity on a hilly section just 200 meters from the finish, successfully breaking away from her younger compatriot to claim victory in 29:36, with Nibret close behind at 29:38. Mawia secured the third place, trailing by 25 seconds, while Zarbo finished fourth, slightly over a minute behind the Kenyan champion.
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“I am absolutely ecstatic,” Amebaw shared. “I have devoted the past three months to rigorous training in preparation for this cross-country season, with high hopes of achieving remarkable success. My next race is at Atapuerca next Sunday,” added the 25-year-old, who has been based in Spain since 2019.
Ndikumana’s Commanding Performance
In the men’s event, Eritrea’s Filmon Kibrom initiated a lightning-quick start, covering the first kilometer in a blazing 2:47. His fellow Merhawi Mebrahtu, Uganda’s Leonard Chemutai, a world 3000m steeplechase finalist, and the pre-race favorite Celestin Ndikumana joined the chase. Together, they completed the initial lap in a swift 5:45, but the pace slightly eased during the second circuit, taking 6:03.
The pivotal moment occurred halfway through the penultimate lap, approximately 16:30 into the race, when Ndikumana unleashed a potent kick, creating a substantial gap within mere meters. Mebrahtu, Chemutai, and Kibrom followed in a single-file formation, with Ndikumana’s 2:55 sixth kilometer signifying his dominance.
As they approached the final lap, Ndikumana maintained a comfortable seven-second lead over Mebrahtu, who held a six-second advantage over Chemutai. The 21-year-old Ndikumana extended his lead during the last circuit, securing Burundi’s ongoing success in this event after Rodrigue Kwizera’s victory the previous year. Ndikumana crossed the finish line in 25:34, a remarkable 13 seconds ahead of Mebrahtu, while Chemutai comfortably secured third place, finishing 10 seconds behind the Eritrean. The top Spanish finisher was Sergio Paniagua, who trailed the victor by 46 seconds.